Monday, 1 February 2010

Donegal Town Ireland

Cuddled in the crook of a sheltered Atlantic inlet, near the nest of mountains called the Blue Stacks, Donegal is a tiny town at repose with the world today. But such was not always the case, for in bygone days the drums of history echoed through its streets. Then the stronghold of the powerful O'Donnell clan, rulers of the northwestern kingdom of Tir Connaill (the country of Conall), now the county of Donegal, it was an arena for great and stirring events.

In the glory days of that storied Gaelic era beginning in the 13th century, Donegal Town attained a status rivaling the larger, walled cities that had sprung up around the coast of Ireland, and for several centuries this bastion of the O'Donnells exerted a commanding influence on the course of Irish history.

The history of Donegal Ireland

The O'Donnell dynasty became a towering symbol of Gaelic hegemony, not the least evidence of which is the fact that in their conquest of Ireland, the invading English had to vanquish the O'Donnells before they could claim a total victory. , The origins of the town are lost ill antiquity the first settlers may have arrived as far back as 2,000 years ago. In the Irish language, Donegal is Dunnan Gall (fort of the foreigners).

It is possible that the original foreigners were invaders from Gaul, the vast empire that dominated the western part of continental Europe before the dawn of Christianity. One theory has the Gauls building the first fort on the banks of the river Eske, where the O'Donnells' castle still stands.

What is known with more certainty is that around the 9th century the Vikings built a fortress on this spot that was destroyed by the High King of Ireland in 1159. No trace of this fort has ever been found, however, despite considerable archaeological exploration, although the remains of a number of earthen forts have been excavated in the hills surrounding Donegal Town.

Toward the end of the 15th century, the O'Donnell chieftains erected a massive Norman style stone tower on the site of the ancient fort. Part of the tower is still attached to the castle that burgeoned from this foundation over the centuries.

An English deputy of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Sydney, wrote of this castle: It is the greatest I ever saw in Ireland in an Irishman's hands, and would appear to be in good keeping; one of the fairest situated in good soil and so nigh a portable water as a boat of ten tons could come within 20 yards of it. About the same time, the O'Donnells built a friary for the Franciscan order farther down on the estuary, its tumbled remains still visible today.

The O'Donnells were a major branch of the Cineal Conaill (the tribe of Conall), founded by Con all Gulban. Con all was a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, one of the last pagan High Kings of Ireland, so named for his custom of taking hostages on his many pillaging expeditions in other lands. One of the captives he carried home after a raid on England and sold into slavery was a young boy who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Patrick managed to escape to England but later returned to Christianize the pagan Irish.

The Anglo-Norman invasion of Donegal

For 400 years after the initial Anglo-Norman invasion, the O'Donnells defended their northwest kingdom from both native and foreign foes, displaying spectacular gallantry and military skill. Their fame was not founded solely on their prowess in war, for they were also bountiful patrons of education, religion, and the arts. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I finally succeeded in destroying the old Gaelic dynasties that had ruled Ireland, and the O'Donnells were forced into exile.

(Their descendants are still thriving in Spain and Austria, where one of them married into a royal family.)To prevent Elizabethan forces from using their castle as a base, the O'Donnells deliberately removed the roof and floors and punched a gaping hole in one of the waifs. However, when an English captain, Basil Brooke, took possession of it in 1610, he repaired the old tower and built extensive additions to it, using stone from the Franciscan friary, which had been laid waste by the invaders.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the castle was handed over to the state and declared a national monument. It is now undergoing a meticulous restoration to return it to its original splendor. Like the castle, the friary of Donegal is intimately identified with the heyday of Donegal history. Founded in 1474 by the first Red Hugh O'Donnell and his wife, Nuala, it became an illustrious monastic school, attracting scholars from across Europe. Within its cloisters a monumental chronology of Irish history was inked out in scrupulous detail over a period of 4 years'.

This was the celebrated Annals of the Four Masters.

The four masters Franciscan Brother Michael O'Clery and three lay scholars sat down in their cells to pen what at first was intended to be a comprehensive history of the saints but somehow turned into a year by year narrative of the story of Ireland. It is one of the most brilliant achievements of medieval Irish literature.

The glorious past of Donegal and airport car hire Dublin

To fully enjoy the fascinating sights and sounds of Donegal, the best way to get around is by hire car from the airport in Dublin.With the departure of the O'Donnelis at the turn of the 17th century, Donegal's heady hour of history ended, and the town's importance as a seat of power began to diminish. Captain Brooke did not stay long in possession of the great castle but moved on to another part of Ireland.

(A descendant, also named Basil Brooke, was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland in modern times.) But even though the castle is deserted and the mighty sailing ships are now no more than ghosts in the harbor, the memory of that glorious past still thrives.

Being small, Donegal Town is a perfect microcosm of Irish life as it is today and as it used to be. It offers an opportunity not only to experience small-town life in Ireland but also to enjoy a countryside of surpassing beauty. Verging Donegal is a majestic landscape of mountains and valleys, lakes and rivers, and vast expanses of lonely moorland, with the waters of the Atlantic forever lapping at the edge of the town.

Things to do in Donegal Ireland

The most commanding vantage point is atop Miller's Hill, behind the Roman Catholic church on Main Street. Another splendid viewing point is the hill behind Drumcliffe Terrace, on the north side of the river estuary. From here, there is not only a panorama of the town but also a magnificent outlook across Donegal Bay.

Inevitably, most of the places of interest are connected with Donegal's eventful past. A visitor might embark on a tour of the town with a touch of romantic whimsy by starting at the harbor, where the Vikings stormed ashore during an earlier age.

The Donegal Diamond

The Diamond Instead of the more conventional square, a diamond shaped marketplace is a distinctive architectural feature of towns in the northern parts of Ireland. The Donegal Diamond was laid out by the Elizabethan captain Basil Brooke when he took over the town in 1603. Its original outline has not changed over the centuries, despite much rebuilding of the houses and shops that border it.

Dominating the Diamond is a 25foothigh red granite obelisk erected in 1937 to commemorate the Four Masters who in the nearby Franciscan friar, penned the monumental Annals, covering the history of Ireland from 2242 BC to AD 1616. That masterpiece, completed in 1636, is regarded as the most remarkable collection of national tradition and history in the Western world. The architectural style of the obelisk is Irish Romanesque.

Donegal Castle - This impressive keep stands as a symbol of both the lost Gaelic age and the Elizabethan Plantation. It is a combination of the original tower built by the native O'Donnell clan and the Elizabethan manse added on by Captain Brooke, the invader. It is thought that Brooke used stones from the ruined Franciscan friar farther downriver to extend the castle and turn it into a more comfortable residence.

The lower parts of the Norman-style tower house still remain, but the most striking feature of the castle is inside the great hall built by Brooke a magnificent stone fireplace adorned with the arms of Brooke and of his wife's family, the Leicesters.

Now a national monument, the castle is open to the public most days. Castle St. Church of Ireland This splendid cut stone building, with a handsome steeple, has been a place of worship for the local Protestant community for more than 100 years. Before it was built, services were held in a small makeshift church amid the ruins of the old friary.

Castle St. Stone Bridge Donegal Built about 1840, this bridge beside the castle spans the near Eske. It bears a plaque commemorating a remarkable Catholic priest and writer, the Rev. Dr. John Boyce, who went to America during the Irish famine to care for the welfare of Irish emigrants and who wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym Paul Peppergrass, one of which Shandy Maguire had considerable success. He died in the United
States in 1864.

Methodist and Presbyterian Churches Donegal -the west bank of the Eske, these two l00 year old churches is worth a visit. The Methodist, the first glimpsed on the right after crossing the Stone Bridge, is the focal point of a strong Methodist tradition in Donegal.

A few steps beyond is the Presbyterian church. Presbytenanism in County Donegal has a close connection with the American sect: Francis Makemle, a minister from Donegal, established that religion in Maryland and, indeed, is regarded as the virtual founder of the US Presbyterian church.
Memorial Church of the Four Masters Another architectural monument to the monastic authors of the Annals, this Catholic church was built in 1935. It is in the Irish Romanesque style and is constructed of red granite.

Napoleonic Anchor Donegal on the quayside of the river estuary sits an enormous 15-foot long, anchor believed to have come from the Romaine, a French frigate, which was part of a flotilla dispatched by Napoleon to land in Donegal.

The expeditionary force of 3,000 was to join Irish revolutionaries in rebellion against the British in 1798, after another French force had been defeated in County Mayo. The second force was routed by British gunboats, and the Romaine and two other French ships hid in Donegal Bay. Tradition has it that the Romaine cut her anchor and fled back to France on the approach of another British force.

Friary Donegal - these historic ruins are on the south side of the Eske estuary, just beyond the quay. Built in 1474 by the first Red Hugh O'Donnell for the Franciscan order, the friary became a renowned seat of learning and monastic scholarship. Within its cloisters, the Four Masters penned their epic Annals. During the wars with England, the friary was raided several times and once was heavily damaged by an explosion.

When the last of the O'Donnells and another great Irish tribe, the O'Neills, were driven into exile in 1607, marking the demise of the ancient Gaelic order, the Franciscans departed the friary forever.

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